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Things Foreigners Notice About America

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People come to the United States of America for a lot of reasons: travel, business, study, and even to live. When most Americans aren't well-versed in life outside the States, they might be surprised to hear the things that foreigners often notice when they come. Perspectives can, of course, vary greatly depending on the country that the foreigners comes from, but for better or worse, here are some of the most popular observations.

1. People are generally more friendly or talkative toward strangers.

Americans have a stereotype for being loud and even obnoxious in foreign countries - and yes, we know that depends entirely on the person. But Americans really are more inclined to be friendly, open and chatty with people they haven't met. A Japanese woman once told me she felt shocked but happy when the American woman next to her on the airplane kept her company the whole flight (and that's a long flight!). Compared to some countries, especially Northern Europe and Japan, Americans can also be more touchy-feely with acquaintances.

2. Portion sizes are enormous, and food is cheap.

Let's get this one out of the way right off: food in the United States is A Big Deal. A restaurant will often serve plates with three serving sizes and more calories than you'll want to admit in good company. Even "healthy" food is all in name only, when salads drizzled with sauces can net you as much as a cheeseburger and no one bats an eye at the concept of deep fried sushi. One thing startling also to foreigners is drinks: most restaurants, including fast food, promise free refills on fountain drinks - though why you would need to refill that 30 ounce cup is anyone's guess. A glass of water is completely free. More than that, food also comes cheap. Typical family restaurants advertise the lowest of prices, and even food in the grocery stores gets you a lot for your buck.

3. The country is designed to accommodate cars, but not necessarily public transportation.

'From sea to shining sea' accounts for a lot of space. America is big, and that could be why cars are such a necessity everywhere except for the occasional large city that actually has reasonably efficient public transportation. For tourists, getting around without a car isn't far off from impossible. Car culture can be seen everywhere in the U.S. - from wide roads and big cars to drive-thru anything. Not only is driving easy, you don't even have to get out of your car to do many things. As much as we complain about gasoline prices, they are actually some of the cheapest around the world.

"Flags, flags everywhere!"

"Flags, flags everywhere!"

4. American society is much more patriotic than most other Western countries.

Foreigners, particularly those from other Western countries, are often shocked at how many American flags are strung up all over the place. Not only real flags, but in decoration and fashion. A British friend once snickered that if someone in London wore a Union Jack shirt, they would probably be a tourist, while Americans manage to wear their star-spangled garb shame-free. The recital of the Pledge of Allegiance so often was also a shock - and almost a disconcerting one to many foreigners at that, with schoolchildren reciting it daily, to some it came across very controlling and almost dystopian. Coupled with flags and anthems is the fact that Americans often believe very strongly that the United States is special and unique, and are proud of their nationality, even if they don't always agree with the government or political representatives.

5. American society tends to be self-focused and Americans are often ignorant about other countries.

Sure, there are jokes, fair or unfair, that the average American couldn't find the United States on an unmarked globe. But it is pretty cringe-worthy to know many, if not most people don't know Austria from Australia and we cling onto the belief that America is the most free, democratic and highest standard of living country in the world (probably not, on all accounts). A Norwegian friend who was studying in America once lamented that when people found out he was foreign, they all assumed he wanted to get a green card and live here forever. Most Americans have not even been outside of the United States and don't have passports. Of course, our ignorance is not without some reasonable basis: this is a huge country, and geography lends travel abroad being much more expensive. To be fair, if a British person has traveled to France, Spain, Italy and Turkey, Americans cover the same distance to get to Florida, New York City and LA.

"Can you... just tell me what I owe you?"

"Can you... just tell me what I owe you?"

6. Money-spending woes: Tax isn't included in the listed price, and don't forget to tip.

Oh, tax - perhaps impossible to simplify when chain stores set prices where states have different taxes. But a day of extreme shopping can lead some to grimace as the cashier rings up their order, hoping the tax won't be too merciless when the store price seemed so reasonable. But that might be minor to the headache of tipping. Tipping servers at restaurants is no longer "a little extra" as appreciation for their kind service, but a crucial part of supporting an employee who could very well earn under minimum wage. But the headache gets worse when factoring in delivery people, hairdressers, taxi drivers and even the hotel staff who bring your bags to your room. Even Americans don't know how to calculate the appropriate amount for each more obscure service, but unless the service is absolutely terribly, tipping is mandatory.

7. Americans are clinging on to nonsensical and outdated measurements.
Three teaspoons in a tablespoon. Sixteen tablespoons in a cup. Four cups in a quart, four quarts in a U.S. gallon. A foot is twelve inches, and there are 5,280 feet in a mile. Well, it might have made sense at one point in history, but the rest of the world (really: almost everyone else except for the United States) has switched from the outdated British Imperial system to the much more logical Metric system. To be fair, some countries combine measurements, but most countries are taking steps to fully integrating to the metric system. The United States? Well, we tried to convert everyone in the 1970s, but no one was too keen on that - hence, we've got a lot of confused tourists and immigrants.

8. So much space!

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If a foreigner gets out of crowded cities, they are sometimes surprised at how much sheer open space there is. One can drive for hours in the Midwest without running into another soul, and even in towns, backyards can be gigantic and the space between buildings wide. As such a young country - and the fourth largest in the entire world - space is not the commodity that it is in smaller, thousands-years-old countries.

9. Clothes' size inconsistencies, and vanity sizing.

A size six dress can be roughly the same as another brand's size ten, which is a headache for Americans, too. Vanity sizing is another phenomenon - sizes have become bigger while the number stays the same. With no strict guidelines about what constitutes a "medium", it makes sense - customers, especially in America's weight-anxious society, want to buy brands that make them feel good, and unfortunately, "feel good" is often equated to a number on a tag.

10. The stereotypes: sometimes way off base, but sometimes true.

What image does the average non-American have of Americans? It's tough to say. American media - movies, music, books, etc - are available all over the globe - as well as our politics, military and scandals, which all come together to paint a veritable gallery of stereotypes. True, a stereotype exists of Americans being obese, gun-touting, Bible-clutching conservative and slightly undereducated cowboys. Another stereotype is the friendly American, or perhaps something off the set of Friends. True, America is more conservative than a lot of other Western countries - even the American "liberal" is somewhat conservative by international standards. America is also religious, but certainly not everyone. America is a divided land - or better yet, a huge country made up of many different people coming from many backgrounds, with many different beliefs and approaches to life. What we hope any traveler might realize is that no one stereotype defines us, just as no one stereotype defines citizens of any country. Wishful thinking? Maybe!


mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on December 27, 2015:

Nice hub, interesting information. I have noticed point #4 a lot in people I know from the U.S.A. - very patriotic, even if in disagreement with some of their politicians.

Joe Cool on December 22, 2014:

There is nothing wrong with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and it is not dystopian or mind control. Patriotism is simply one’s love for their home country. It is that simple. It is not warlike, nationalism, shameful, arrogance, insular, or anything negative. The USA is unique just like every other nation on this planet.

lgjhere on June 21, 2014:

A new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that helps explain America is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for anyone who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many cultural issues.

Here’s a closing quote from the book’s Intro: “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much…we as human beings have in common on this little third rock from the sun. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Peace.”

Sunshine on June 12, 2014:

I live in Pittsburgh; I noticed most women here are fat like 100-300 lbs over weight; but many men here are in good shape like have a muscular body type.

RICHARD CRANIUM on May 14, 2014:

Not to sound offensive but sometimes the truth does hurt....

The number ONE thing that foreigners notice is that a lot of Americans are fat. Not 10 pounds overweight like myself but more like 50-90 pounds overweight. I really mean obese with a capital "O".

I recently have traveled to Japan, Philippines, Guam, Costa Rica so I base my opinion on those countries..

Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on March 31, 2014:

I like your hub. Your article remains me my priciples. Americans have more than principles. They have freedom. And they also have good laws. They have equal rights. If people practice all of then together. Their future will be brilliant. Thanks for your article miss aliasis.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on February 09, 2014:

Very well written aliases. You've made a number of good points. Our ignorance of geography and different cultures is largely true I believe. That may say more about us than anything else. I really like how you ended the article. We are a country that encompasses so many kinds of people. We don't always get along. But this is still one nation.

aliasis (author) from United States on November 21, 2013:

Thank you! I've actually heard more observations than are on this list alone, but so much of it depends on the country and culture you're coming from. This list is a bit focused on tourists from Western countries - perspectives from individual countries could probably be articles all on their own. "Things Indian people notice about the US" for example, haha.

Christopher J Wood from Florida, USA on November 18, 2013:

Very interesting to hear what others around the world think about Americans. My only travel outside the states has been Canada, but I have often wondered what the world felt about us and must of what you said I can believe. Loved reading this one!

aliasis (author) from United States on November 16, 2013:

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Savvydating - I can absolutely understand the exasperation with the negative American stereotypes. Living abroad and interacting with a variety of non-Americans, I know it's one thing to take a silly "lol fat Americans" comment in stride and to be faced with someone - whether a stranger or a "friend" - who seriously believes incredibly negative things about Americans. I knew people who told me they hated America, and I was like, what the heck, why would you say that to me? I'm pretty relaxed and good-natured, but for all the teasing and (fair) criticism this country deserves, it's unfair and ignorant to generalize a country like that.

JessBraz - I actually grew up near the boarder of Canada myself, in fact, my home state Minnesota pretty much believes itself to be a close relative of Canada. Haha. Thanks for your insights and comparisons to Canada, though! In my experiences in Canada, I never really noticed food portion sizes being much different, but drink sizes in the US are totally crazy, at least if you're getting a large.

Jess Brazeau from Canada on November 16, 2013:

I've gone on quite a few roads trips in the U.S. I remember the first time my husband and I drove down to Florida, I, typical Canadian tourist wound up with an AMAZING sunburn on my face.. We were in Wal-Mart one day and I was shocked how many Americans came up to me out of nowhere and offered me advice on how to treat my sunburn.. They obviously knew I wasn't from Florida. I was surprised at how friendly they were... People in NYC are also a lot friendlier than people think they're going to be. New Yorkers are not to be feared. :)

You're definitely right about the food... It BOGGLES MY MIND how big the drinks are (and the fact that so many places still use Styrofoam cups!).. I live right on the border and went into upstate NY two days ago.. I'm still working on the Mountain Dew I got from Taco Bell. lol.

There are many many flags flying in the States, but I wouldn't say Americans are the most patriotic Western country.. Us Canadians are pretty darn patriotic and Canadians love to wear "Canada" t-shirts and "Team Canada" jerseys. :) We just might rival you guys in the patriotic department. :)

I love the one about the Metric system as well. lol.. Us Canadians are ATTACHED to the States, and even we use it. lol

I live right on the Canada-U.S border, so I go into the States a lot and I can relate to pretty much every single point you've made! .. I thoroughly enjoyed this hub.. I'll stop ranting now though. lol. Cheers on the awesome hub! Voted up, awesome, funny. :)

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on November 16, 2013:

Very interesting and very true, Aliasis. We are a very complicated and often contradictory country. Also never dull. Great Hub.

savvydating on November 15, 2013:

Lol. Sometimes we Americans seem ridiculous. Nonetheless, plenty of other nations love adopting our habits, i.e., iPhones, designer T-shirts, weird handshakes, cool cars, hip hop--all those important things! I recently asked a Dane what most Danish people think of Americans and she said they think we are fat, lazy and not very smart. And she was a friend! Yikes. Actually, I didn't mind since I knew that was an over generalization, (to say the least). She was sincerely telling me what they think of us, in general, so it was actually kind of funny.

Anyway, Denmark is mostly homogeneous and their country is the size of Rhode Island. How complicated could that be to manage? In any event, her favorite place in the world is San Diego and she loves blond beach bums.

Now excuse me while I look for my American flag T-shirt to wear tomorrow!

Up, funny, interesting.

Alice Fournier from Amsterdam on November 13, 2013:

Everything is so true... Great insight of this awesome but flawed country!

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on November 11, 2013:

Interesting topic there, it's nice to know about Americans from a foreigner's perspective. Many of those things are true anyway. Up, interesting.

Novascotiamiss from Nova Scotia, Canada on November 11, 2013:

I totally agree with Aliasis. Food (especially fast food) is dirt cheap in the US compared to other parts of the world. E.g. in Switzerland McDonalds is 2 to 3 times more expensive and the people are 2-3 times skinnier!

aliasis (author) from United States on November 10, 2013:

Thanks, Rohanfelix! I would love to visit India sometime myself. :)

Rohan Rinaldo Felix from Chennai, India on November 09, 2013:

A very fascinating hub! I'm an Indian who'd love to visit the US sometime in the future.

aliasis (author) from United States on November 09, 2013:

Kanala - I think "food being cheap" really depends on what country you're from! :) Food being cheap is a common observation from tourists from Western countries - many from, say, Europe, Australia, Japan... but I've been to other countries that are much cheaper, too.

Naga Krishna Kanala from India on November 09, 2013:

You made a good move by writing this article.which is very useful.But the thing is the food is not cheap in usa,maybe some restaurants offers.You are right that americans are more friendly and self considered,I have an experience with them.

aliasis (author) from United States on November 08, 2013:

Novascotiamiss - glad you think it's accurate! Well, everything on this list came from non-Americans I spoke with while living/traveling abroad, but of course there are some differences in perception with consideration to where the non-American is from and where in America they visited. :) Oh, that food thing! I have to say, in my family, that would be very rude, too, my mother always made us wait until everyone was sitting at the table before eating, and now I don't like eating unless everyone has their food and is sitting. But that's probably one of those things that depends on the family, or the region. Thanks for the comment!

Novascotiamiss from Nova Scotia, Canada on November 08, 2013:

Great and enjoyable article! You hit the nail on the head in every aspect. As a foreigner I can totally confirm every single point, especially the one about Americans being very friendly and talkative. America is the best place to get lost in as there's always a friendly soul willing to help. Also you never have to feel lonely as you'll always find somebody to chat to However, it comes across as a bit strange when you are somebody's best buddy within minutes and the next day you just get a blank stare. I guess that's why American's are called superficial. Also, I can't ever get used to their table manners. Americans guzzle food and they start eating before everybody else sits down. In Europe this would be unacceptable and rude!

aliasis (author) from United States on November 08, 2013:

INFJay - haha, I haven't been to France yet! But debunking stereotypes around the world could be a hub on its own, I bet. :) I think a good rule of understanding people is that they are basically the same wherever you go - there are friendly people, rude people, sociable people and shy people, and even if society encourages certain traits, you can't really define any group of people with just a word!

Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on November 08, 2013:

I truly enjoyed reading your hub, which is 100% accurate based on my own experiences. Speaking of stereotypes, my experiences with the French were quite opposite from what Americans say about them. They were friendly and very helpful (this was not a one-time freak event either!). Great hub!!

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